Disabled NI soldier finishes Dakar Rally
Motorsport report by Tony Gregory
On Saturday afternoon, Ballymena-born soldier Corporal Philip 'Barney' Gillespie and Matt O'Hare made motorsport history by being the first disability crew to finish the world renowned Dakar rally. After enduring 14 days of racing in their no.445 Bowler Wildcat and covering over 8,000 kilometres they were one of only 299 crews out of 449 on the start list to make it to the finishing ramp in Santiago Chile.
The remarkable twenty-four-year old Gillespie lost a leg when he stood on an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan's Helmand Province two years ago and described the journey as “ a momentous achievement for us. This is without a shadow of a doubt the toughest thing I've ever done. But we managed to prove that, despite the handicap, we can do amazing things. If we can finish the toughest rally in the world, we can do anything. Our car's presence in Santiago symbolises the success of our entire project. It was a hefty responsibility for us because, after the other crews abandoned in the first week, we carried the entire weight of our project on our shoulders."
The pair are part of the Race2Recovery project which is a team primarily made up of disabled British-service personnel, who set out to prove to themselves and others what is possible once you go beyond injury and achieve the extraordinary and in doing so realise the team‘s ambition of completing the Dakar Rally while raising money for Tedworth House, a military personnel recovery and assessment centre part-funded by the Help for Heroes charity.
The project had started the 15-day trek with four Land Rover-based Wildcats but in tackling the incredibly hostile terrain through the wilds of South America, the notoriously-difficult rally took its toll, with three Wildcats joining the lengthy retirements list after only six days. This just left Barney‘s and Matt’s ’Joy‘ (named after a benefactor‘s late wife) to blaze the trail over the 8,570 km course that started in Lima, Peru and finished in Santiago Chile.
Team manager Andrew 'Pav' Taylor said yesterday: “Race2Recovery has always been about injured servicemen going beyond injury to achieve the extraordinary, but we never expected the Dakar to be quite as extraordinary as this. The last couple of weeks have been more intense than any of us ever imagined, but we came through it all together and I‘m immensely proud of everyone."
On hearing the news the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge sent a personal message of congratulations. Prince William told the pair what they had achieved was "a triumph of perseverance and teamwork". He added: "You have shown the world what true valour looks like". The team is due to arrive back in the UK later this week and a book about their adventure is due to be published in March, with part of the proceeds going to 'Help For Heroes.‘